U.S.-backed Kurdish militias in Syria will tighten the siege on Islamic State’s stronghold in Raqqa, after cutting the last main road out of the city the leads to the group’s other stronghold in Deir Ezzor, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia, is supported by the US as the latter uses them in its war against ISIS.
Air strikes carried out by the US-led coalition and a long fight by the SDF forces ended in recapturing Manbij from the control of the Islamic State (ISIS) group last year.
The SDF, backed by US coalition, launched also a campaign with the ultimate aim of capturing Raqqa in November and succeeded in encircling the city. Recently, they launched an assault on Deir Ezzor province to cut the road to Raqqa and surrounding ISIS effectively and were able to achieve this goal after fierce clashes.
Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants, who have waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey, and sought therefore to sideline the Kurdish role in Raqqa operations but failed until now to achieve this goal.
One aim of the campaign is to cut ISIS’s supply lines from Raqqa to Deir Ezzor province and widen the Kurdish militias’ influence in the area, making it harder for the Turkish forces to oust them or put pressure on their held-region.
Cutting the road from Deir Ezzor, Encircling Raqqa effectively
The SDF said its forces have cut the highway between Raqqa and Deir Az Zor province.
“Cutting the road between Raqqa and Deir Az Zor means that practically the encirclement of ISIS capital is complete by land,” the Kurdish military sources told Reuters.
“It is a big victory but there is still a lot to accomplish,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The development, confirmed by the Observatory, marks a major blow against the Islamic State group that is under intense military pressure in both Syria and Iraq.
It is losing ground to three separate campaigns in northern Syria by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militias, the Russian-backed Syrian army, and Turkey and allied Syrian rebels.
The SDF advance means all main roads out of Raqqa are now cut. The U.S.-backed militias now plan to capture surrounding rural areas and advance towards the city to isolate it completely, SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters.
In some areas, the militias were still up to 20 kilometers from the city limits, he added.
“The frontlines have not reached the city yet, they are still in the countryside,” Silo said. “The campaign will go on until the city is completely cut off.”
The first two phases of the SDF campaign targeted areas to the north and west of Raqqa, with the third phase targeting areas to the east of the city.